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Lincoln D. Chafee, who lost his Senate seat in the wave of anti-Republican sentiment in last November’s election, said that he has left the party.
Chafee said Sunday he disaffiliated with the party he had helped lead, and his father had led before him, because the national Republican Party has gone too far away from his stance on too many critical issues, from war to economics to the environment.
“It’s not my party any more,” he said.
Chafee’s departure is another step in the waning of the strain of moderate Republicanism that was once a winning political philosophy from Rhode Island and Connecticut to the Canadian border. For the first time since the Civil War, the six New England states combined now have only one Republican U.S. House member, Connecticut’s Christopher Shays.
Chafee said he disaffiliated from the party “in June or July,” making him an unaffiliated voter. He did so quietly, and until Sunday, he said, “No one’s asked me about it.” He said he made the move because “I want my affiliation to accurately reflect my status.”
“There’s been a gradual depravation of … the issues the party should be strong on,” and the direction of the national party, he said.
That’s no secret. In a Providence Journal op-ed piece published on the Thursday before the election, Chafee himself laid out some of the ways he disagreed with his party, notably as one of only 23 senators and the only Republican to oppose the resolution supporting the invasion of Iraq. He went on to criticize the “permanent deficits” caused by Republican tax cuts.
Chafee referred Sunday to the broad-based, bipartisan Iraq Study Group that Congress created, a process Chafee approved of. The study group recommended a gradual pullback of American forces, and insistence that the Iraqi government take more responsibility for security. But he said that since the study group made its recommendations, which he agreed with, “no one’s paid any attention to them.”
As the election approached, Chafee cited his record opposing Republican initiatives like drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Sunday, he criticized Republican leaders for abandoning fiscal conservatism, once a mainstay of GOP politics, by passing tax cuts without spending cuts to balance the resulting loss of revenue.
He said the “starve the beast” strategy that Republicans have used in an attempt to shrink government has undermined social programs that bolster a strong American middle class.
Ironically, after all of Chafee’s opposition to the Republican policies he disagreed with, the party helped him survive a primary challenge from the right, from former Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey. National Republican leaders supported Chafee, having concluded that even though Chafee had voted against many of President Bush’s initiatives, including authorizing the Iraq war, he was the only Republican who could win in Rhode Island.
Chafee lost the Senate seat that he and his father, John H. Chafee, together held for 30 years. The victor was Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who pounded on one issue: Chafee had supported the Republican leadership of the U.S. Senate.
Chafee said he’s happy with his current situation — in January, Brown University made him a distinguished visiting fellow at the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies.